The Tragic Death of Milford Baker

Milford Baker at Log Yard

Milford Baker at the Log Yard. Digital Collections Old Canada Road Historical Society.

On May 1, 1933, Bingham and Moscow lost a favorite son in a tragic accident at the foot of Wyman Dam. Beloved local photographer Milford Baker was fishing with friends Vernard (Bunny) Pierce, Harry LaPointe, and Phillip Collette at the salmon pool below the dam, when their rowboat was caught in a whirlpool and dragged under. Baker and Collette (Superintendent at the Dam), died, while Pierce and LaPointe were able to reach safety. Bingham’s Glenn Wing, who had worked for Milford Baker at his Wyman Dam concession shop, once related that he was among the men who scrambled over the banks at the dam to try to locate and rescue the men.

Milford, a son of Elmer and Nettie Baker of Moscow, was about to celebrate his 34th birthday, which would have been May 12. He and Ruby (Carpenter) of Skowhegan had recently celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary. They had set up housekeeping and furnished a small studio on Bates Street in Bingham, where Milford conducted his photography and art business.

Baker Studio

Baker Studio on Bates Street, near Austin Stream. Digital Collections Old Canada Road Historical Society.

Baker was the creator of a large body of work that documented the construction of Wyman Dam, taking photographs and film footage as the project progressed from 1928 to 1931.

wyman dam construction

Crew at Work Building Wyman Dam, April 1930. Milford Baker Photo. Old Canada Road Historical Society

He also created a photographic record of area buildings and landscapes in the 1920’s and early 1930’s, leaving us a vivid picture of our towns in that era. He chose certain of his photographs to colorize with oil paints, including a spectacular colorized view of Kineo at the Moosehead Marine Museum. Several others survive in private collections, like his study of Pierce Hill in Spring.

Pierce Hill in Spring

Springtime on Pierce Hill, Moscow, Maine (detail). Colorized photograph by Milford Baker. Digital Collections of Old Canada Road Historical Society.

Milford spent summers at his studio in Rockwood on Moosehead Lake, where he had worked in the woods for Forrest Colby in his early adulthood. He scaled logs at places like Smithtown, Dennistown, Soldiertown, and Passadumkeag, taking photographs of co-workers, camps, and scenery in each location.

Milford Baker Scaling timber

Milford Baker Scaling at Dennistown, 1918. Digital Collections Old Canada Road Historical Society.

During his time at Moosehead, Milford produced a booklet containing Frances Parker (Laughton) Mace’s poem Kineo, which is uncredited in the work. He illustrated the poem with a few of his Moosehead area photographs.

Baker Pamphlet Moosehead

The Legend of Moosehead Lake, Milford Baker.

Among his closest friends were Robert Moore and Rev. Arthur R. Macdougall, Jr., each of whom wrote tribute articles that appeared in local newspapers after his death. Moore, who wrote a personal account of the tragedy in his 1933 diary, was a pall bearer, along with John Gordon, Bunny Pierce, Orrin Hill, and others. Rev. Macdougall conducted the service to a crowd that overflowed the church.

Moore wrote that “more than fifty people were entirely outside.” A shocked community mourned the loss of this young, talented man who left such an important pictorial legacy, dying at the foot of the edifice he worked for so many years to document.

Wyman Dam

Wyman Dam, Moscow, Maine. Photo by the author.

Milford Baker

Milford Baker, Photographer and Artist. Collections of Old Canada Road Historical Society.

2 thoughts on “The Tragic Death of Milford Baker

  1. I grew up and graduated from Valley High School and had never even heard of this gifted young man. I find these articles very interesting. We should have had some classes in school growing up about our own history of where we grew up. Wyman Dam itself had quite a history behind the building of it. Thank you for this interesting, yet sad story of a promising young local man.

    • Thank you for your interest, Kathleen. I enjoy exploring local history more now that I’m retired, and this blog is my vehicle for sharing it. You are right – we have a lot of fascinating history in this valley!

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